Yesterday I looked at the impact declining tap water use may have on a municipality. In a nutshell, if fewer people use tap water, the system may become more difficult to support, which may lead to lower quality drinking water for those who rely on taps over bottled water (hundreds of times more expensive). Because of this, investing in promoting tap water may be money well spent. But there may be bigger and more easily quantified benefits to increasing tap water adoption rates, such as reducing the volume of plastic bottles in a municipalities’ waste stream.
In 2007, the StarTribune included a take from the city on why they’re investing in marketing the city’s tap water:
Until bottled water sales erupted, public officials never imagined they would have to promote plain, old tap water with their own PR campaigns, said Jeremy Hanson, spokesman for Mayor R.T. Rybak. This year, the city of Minneapolis has about $200,000 in its budget to promote city water.
Interestingly, there are more reasons to encourage drinking tap water than boosting the volume of water flowing through the city’s infrastructure. The article also breaks down the lessened impact of the city’s waste stream:
One selling point from the city’s website: A resident can refill a bottle 2,850 times with Minneapolis water to equal the price of a single 79-cent bottle of store-bought water. The campaign to promote tap water aims to get residents and businesses to reduce waste. Even though many people recycle the plastic or glass bottles, the mission is to prevent the waste in the first place, whether it’s recycled or not, said Susan Hubbard, CEO of Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis.
Put another way, when a Minneapolis taxpayer buys a bottle of water, we all end up paying to get rid of it. So we all benefit if we take advantage of tap water over bottled.
Taxpayer Costs of Plastic Bottles
The Joint Service Pollution Prevention Opportunity Handbook has a breakdown of the costs of dealing with plastic bottles entering the waste stream. Whether recycled or dumped into landfills, every bottle purchased creates a tax burden for tax payers.
Here are the assumptions in those numbers:
* Medium scale plastic container collection program: 2 tons/month
* Purchase of 40 curbside recycling containers: $15/container
* Purchase of one large collection bin: $500
* Labor for collection/separation of plastic containers: 4 hrs/week
* Landfill fee: $25/ton
* Labor rate: $30/hour
* Transportation cost to recycle center or landfill: $150/month
* Recycled plastic price: $200/ton
According to North Carolina’s recycling website, RE3.org, every 38,069 20oz bottles create one ton of waste. Nationwide (as of 2007) only 1/4 of plastic bottles are recycled (I’ve seen stats from 10-25%. It’s higher than that range in states with deposits), so the cost tends toward the high side of the waste stream.
Minneapolis’ Tax Burden for Non-Tap Water
Using assumptions for costs of recycling vs. landfills and Minneapolis’ bottled water use based on national averages, I came up with the following calculation of what the City of Minneapolis pays annually to dispose of plastic bottles:
A lot of assumptions went into this. If you have better data I can use, let me know. One big potential variable here is that Minneapolis burns its trash next to the new Twins stadium so adjustments may need to be made to account for that. For now, working off those calculations, what can we learn from this?
1. If Minneapolis’ investment in a tap water PR campaign increased tap water use over bottled by 5% annually, the city would see a positive return on its investment in under three years, based solely on the waste stream impacts.
2. Even a 1% would see a positive ROI in around 10 years, based solely on the waste stream impacts.
3. The city can provide a person with 30 bottles worth of water via tap for the same cost as throwing away one plastic bottle.
This is longer-term thinking than what I expect to see from people like Ben Golnik, who appear to be in more of a reactionary campaign mode. He’s probably perfectly capable of understanding this, but the nature of his position working for Marty Seifert seems to be clouding his judgment. Going back to the post that set off Golnik in the first place, I posed the following questions:
1. Property Taxes: I’m a Minneapolis resident and am fine with the services provided to me for my property taxes. What’s your definition of massive? How would you have preferred to see the budget balanced?
2. Police Cuts: The budget was balanced and tough decisions were made along the way. What would you have liked to see cut instead that would have achieved the same results?
4. Tap Water: Seriously?
5. Vegetative roofs: How much would have been saved long term had this not been done? Are we talking about serious money, or are you grasping at straws?
Without answers to the above questions, how do you expect your statements to be taken seriously?
Policy issues like this are worth debating. If a consultant to Marty Seifert’s campaign makes attacks on issues like this, but refuses back up their statements when questioned, I have to question whether Seifert team plans to continue using misinformation and ridiculous framing of arguments rather than presenting a vision for a better Minnesota.
There is a big difference between policy and talking points. Does Marty Seifert and his campaign team know the difference?